Ozzie Guillen has never been confused with someone who thinks before speaking. Within that context, I will say nothing more about his love for Cuban President Fidel Castro … other than this expression came from an ignorant loose cannon and walking verbal earthquake whose area of expertise is the baseball diamond, not geopolitics.
I commend him for his apology, and believe him to be sincere in his realization that he made a mistake. However, Guillen’s story is about more than what he said. It’s about pro-embargo Miami Cubans, who have a complete headlock on the US-Cuba discussion, and it’s about management of a team that embarrassingly dropped the ball on this situation.
My first issue is with the gutless Miami Marlins, who are doing nothing more than placating a politically stocked Cuban American community. As an employer, they have the right to sanction an employee for objectionable behavior. But Guillen was suspended for five games, which is not even 1/30th of a baseball season. Adding insult to injury, Guillen’s five missed game checks are peanuts in comparison to the millions he will pocket this season. And while I don’t believe Guillen should have been fired, I refuse to sit back and not tell it like it is: the Marlins are paying for a problem to go away.
Here’s what most people probably don’t know. The Marlins just opened up a tax-funded stadium smack in the middle of Little Havana. In total, the city of Miami will invest over $2 billion into this ballpark over the next forty years. Combine that with the fact that Guillen was brought in as part of a greater marketing campaign to put a Latino product on the field, while trying to grow a Latino fan base, and you’ll see where the problem really lies.
The Marlins aren’t concerned with Guillen making controversial comments, or righting a wrong. They’re worried about losing customers and their bottom line.
It’s simple. If a large portion of your fan base is Cuban, and you’re depending on a largely Cuban American city to fund your arena, then it’s bad business to have a face of your franchise running around endorsing Castro. This becomes even more critical when most of the city council members and prominent politicians you depend on to continue financing your stadium, are Cuban. So what Miami did was buy time. They’re hoping that five games are long enough for the media to move on, and enough that people won’t boycott games or not buy team gear.
If only they knew of the Cuban predisposition to fixate on a topic for years.
Now to my greater point of contention, which is how elements of the exile community refuse to both accept Guillen’s apology, and fight his speech with speech. To be clear, what Guillen said was beyond wrong. He expressed love and admiration for a dictator, and did it while living and working in the middle of a community for whom Fidel Castro is not merely a topic in a textbook. But he made his statements while exercising his right to voice his opinion, a right so profound that it was embedded in our constitution’s first amendment.
If anyone should understand the value of free speech, and the right to express oneself without fear, it should be a community of exiles that come from an island where free speech is suppressed. If anyone should appreciate the ability of someone to express an unfathomable view that rocks you to your core, it should be a community of exiles from a country where there is no freedom of press. And if anyone should understand the value of diversity of opinion, it should be a community of exiles that come from a country where people are imprisoned for protesting government policies.
Instead of celebrating this freedom, which allows Democrats and Republicans to go at it on a daily basis without fear of being jailed, many Cuban Americans would rather the view be suppressed altogether. If Guillen wants to take an unconscionable stance, that is his right. And it is likewise our right to fight that stance with condemnation of his rhetoric and illumination on why he’s wrong. In so doing, it should not be about silencing the opposition, but challenging it. The first amendment affords us the ability to fight speech with speech, which makes the outcry over Guillen’s comments disconcerting because there’s no room for his contrition, or meaningful discussion.
We need to combat that which we find grotesque and hateful by illuminating the other side of the argument, and highlighting what people don’t know or don’t understand. It is not beyond the ability of others to hear both sides of the argument. It might be beyond their ability to comprehend both sides, but people can and should hear it nonetheless.
Guillen apologized, owned up to his mistake, and literally begged for forgiveness. Yet, there are elements of the Miami Cuban community who would rather his livelihood be taken away then accept an apology. They would be entirely validated if Guillen were not remorseful for his actions. But he apologized, meaning the window has opened for legitimate education on Castro and US-Cuba policy. Instead, the discussion has become an indictment on free speech, which is a damn shame because Cuba is a topic that few Americans get, and even fewer care about.